HENDERSON, Nev. -- How do the Las Vegas Raiders avoid another late-season collapse? Or has it already started, and the self-fulfilling prophecy is well underway?
Glad you asked, though the Raiders would rather not be asked, lest they breathe oxygen into the notion.
"I think we're just a better team, honestly," Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said after Sunday night's 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. "We have better players. Now, that doesn't result in wins. I've been on teams that were really talented that underperformed. I just really believe in our group, it's a close group. Football, you have to be tight, you have to do it together. The things that we messed up today are so correctable. I think that's what gives me, 'Oh yeah, we can do it.' It's not like we got outmanned.
"I really believe that this group is just different. I'm around them every day. It's just a different group."
Fair enough. The roster has turned over. But there is this -- late-season collapses have doomed the Raiders' playoff chances in each of the past two seasons.
In 2019, the Raiders got off to a 6-4 start before a stunning 34-3 beatdown at the hapless New York Jets portended a 1-5 finish and 7-9 season. The Jets were 3-7 entering that game.
Last year, a 6-3 start was followed by a heartbreaking last-minute loss to the Chiefs and then a shocking 43-6 loss at the woebegone Atlanta Falcons, who would go 4-12. The Raiders finished 8-8.
Now, you could almost give the Raiders a pass for their flat performance coming out of their bye on Nov. 7 at the New York Giants -- a 23-16 loss in which the Raiders dominated the stat sheet -- in the wake of Henry Ruggs III being cut after he crashed his car, killing a 23-year-old woman. But from a football standpoint, it was a huge opportunity missed, a chance to improve to 6-2 and play with house money with the Chiefs up next.
Indeed, the Raiders could have taken a major step forward in the AFC West the past two weeks. Instead, at 5-4, they are now in third place in the division -- Kansas City is 6-4 while the Los Angeles Chargers are also 5-4 but already beat the Raiders -- and on the outside looking in if the playoffs were to begin this week.
And while the Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) have also lost two straight, they are coming in to Allegiant Stadium off their bye (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS) and have an explosive offense that could give a suddenly-flummoxed Raiders defense fits.
The most important game left on the Raiders' schedule? The next one. Then the one after that, because Las Vegas is about to embark on a two-games in 10 days stretch with a Thanksgiving Day affair at the Dallas Cowboys (7-2) on tap.
Yeah, this thing could spiral out of control in a hurry, with talk of replacing Carr -- who only has one year left on his contract -- with Marcus Mariota and both general manager Mike Mayock and interim coach Rich Bisaccia on the hot seat, with another potential major rebuild in the offing.
Unless the spiral already has started.
"We are just going to look at what we did wrong and work to fix at it," said Bisaccia, who is 2-2 since replacing Jon Gruden, who resigned on Oct. 11 amid his email scandal. The two losses have been just as deflating as the two wins were uplifting in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL.
"We are going to look at what we did correctly and build on that," Bisaccia added. "And really, we have one game to play -- we have to get ourselves ready to play the Cincinnati Bengals here at home and we'll just go from there. But as far as our team, I think our team has been pretty resilient.
"Again, I don't think effort has been an issue."
Just the results, of late.
Offensively, the Raiders suddenly can't run the ball. Again.
Carr was Las Vegas' leading ground gainer against the Chiefs with 18 rushing yards and the highly paid duo of Pro Bowler Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake are spearheading a running game that ranks 28th in the NFL.
Self-inflicted wounds by the likes of rookie right guard Alex Leatherwood -- the first-round pick's six false starts lead all NFL linemen -- have cost Las Vegas at the most inopportune times while Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller has been rendered invisible since his 19-target game in the season opener. The receivers? Newbie DeSean Jackson's first catch as a Raider ended with a strange fumble, so that has been a microcosm of not only the unit, but that side of the ball for the Raiders.
Defensively, Yannick Ngakoue (six sacks) and Maxx Crosby (five sacks) have been putting in Pro Bowl-type seasons, as has cornerback Casey Hayward Jr.
So, yeah, there is more talent on this roster than the previous two years, as Carr said. Thing is, none of it matters if the Raiders can't right their ship, one listing badly after the Chiefs dropped 41 points on it.
"It just starts with the day-to-day process," said Crosby, who Pro Football Focus has leading the NFL with 63 pressures. Nobody else in the league had more than 50 after Sunday's games.
"We've just got to keep getting better and find ways to improve. It's tough -- we've beaten good teams; we've lost to teams we feel like we should have beaten."
Self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?