Why is this year's 6-4 record better for the Raiders than last year's 6-4 record?

HENDERSON, Nev. -- A year ago, the not-quite-yet Las Vegas Raiders had a 6-4 record, controlled their playoff destiny and had a cross-country trip to face a dog-awful New York Jets team up next.

That's when the wheels fell off.

The Jets blew out the Raiders 34-3 in a game that felt even worse later, as the Raiders lost four straight and five of their last six to limp to the finish line.


The Raiders are 6-4, sitting as the AFC's No. 7 seed for the playoffs and prepping to travel eastbound and down to face an Atlanta Falcons team that is as downtrodden at 3-7 as it is dangerous with explosive offensive weapons such as quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Todd Gurley II and receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.

So what's the difference, and why are the Raiders better prepared to not fall into the same trap of a year ago?

"I could care less about 6-4," said Raiders coach Jon Gruden, with equal parts sly smile and Chucky grin. "I just care what we do at the end. This comparing stuff is for ESPN analysts. Those days are in my past."

Remember, Gruden was in ESPN's Monday Night Football booth from 2009 through 2017 before returning to the Raiders.

"You know, we've got a long way to go," he added. "But we're getting progress -- we're making signs on offense and we're showing some things on defense. We've just got to play a lot better together. And we've got to keep building our franchise and keep working with these players and trying to get them to play and perform better and better and better. That's all I can say, honestly."

Fair enough. But keep this in mind -- while it seemed as though the Raiders were doing a lot of things with Silver and Black smoke and mirrors to stagger to six wins in 2019, this year's vintage just feels different.

And it starts under center ... with a conversation involving the front office.

"Me and Mr. [Mike] Mayock, I said the same words to him," Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said of a skull session with the Las Vegas general manager. "I said, 'Yeah, but this feels different.' He said, 'I agree.'

"There's just something about this team. The teams that we've lost to, how we've lost. The teams that we've played with and beat. We're definitely a better team this year but we, right now, have to, and I mean have to, finish this season better than we did last year. And I believe that we will. I'm hopeful and I believe that we will. I think that it's different and I feel it's different, but time will tell if it is different."

Got it? Good.

Keep in mind, while the Raiders' offense has been borderline elite of late, the duct-tape defense is again springing leaks. And yeah, it is understood that was Patrick Mahomes doing his magic Sunday night.

But in the Falcons, the Raiders might just be walking straight into a (take a deep breath, Raider Nation) trap game.

Wait, doesn't a team have to be an established no-doubt-about-it winner to launch a million Admiral Ackbar "It's A Trap!" from "Return of the Jedi" GIFs and memes?

The Falcons have the No. 2-ranked passing offense in the NFL; the Raiders have the No. 28 pass defense.

Just don't tell that to cornerback Trayvon Mullen. Or, yeah, go ahead.

"I mean, this year feels better," Mullen said, repeating a common refrain. "I say that because we've got a lot of guys that are willing to make sacrifices. We've got a lot of guys that play with an edge. We've just got a lot of guys that want to win. So, it's really exciting. We've always got the next-man-up mentality and those guys always are ready as well.

"We've just got to continue to build and move forward and just win out the rest of these games."

Ah yes, the schedule makers have the Raiders playing at (drum roll, please) the Jets next week. Followed by three straight home games, against the Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers and Miami Dolphins, with the season finale at the Denver Broncos.

This week, the Raiders added a pair of former Falcons defensive standouts in Vic Beasley Jr. (37.5 career sacks in five-plus seasons with a league-leading 15.5 in 2016) and Takkarist McKinley (17.5 career sacks in three-plus seasons), to the practice squad and off waivers, respectively

The Raiders' 11 sacks rank just 31st in the league.

"This year we're a totally different team," resonated Raiders defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who added that the defense was starting to "jell" on the field.

"I feel like we know what we can do out there. We've just got to put it together for four quarters and make a run."

Now that would be different from last year.