Aware of a report citing a conflict between them, the two most influential coaches on the Raiders staff said they shared a good laugh. That apparently was their form of denial.

Though it would be unfair to doubt the integrity of the statements issued by head coach Tom Cable and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, even if their statements mirrored each other almost word for word, we also realize laughter isn't always driven by humor.

It can be a nervous response to anxiety.

As one might expect of a sub-.500 team in December, anxiety is running rampant in the hallways at Raiders headquarters. And not just because Oakland (6-7) today faces Denver (3-10) as well as the prospect of being mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

While many coaches and players cling to faint hope for the playoffs, the realists are wrapping their minds around a more immediate and personal concern. They're wondering if they'll be Raiders next season. They wonder if they'll earn NFL paychecks in 2011 and, if so, whose signature might be at the bottom of those checks. They wonder if their near future includes packing boxes and filling out change-of-address forms.

Nobody in the building, with the possible exception of defensive coordinator John Marshall, should be more concerned about this than Cable, whose contract expires after this season and who, in an unguarded moment, acknowledges he can be fired anytime owner Al Davis decides.


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And nobody should be less concerned about this than Jackson, who in his first season in Oakland pulled the offense out of hibernation and energized the entire team.

Jackson had choices last January and opted to sign with Oakland instead of Chicago. He would have multiple options after this season if not for a Raiders contract that runs through 2012.

Makes it easy to guess which man may have laughed loudest, eh?

Quarterback Jason Campbell is about as secure as Jackson. There are others, including cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski. No member of the defense has been more impressive this season than tackle Tommy Kelly, no member of the offense more impressive than running back Darren McFadden -- and both have realized Al's vision of their position.

There are plenty of other players and coaches who will return, but all of them know the final three games are more about making impressions than making the playoffs.

Cable's impression, however, is pretty much made. After 41 games we know he's a terrific offensive line coach and a resilient head coach who has the trust of his players. The Raiders have incrementally become more competitive.

The missing ingredient has been consistency. Oakland has been inspired and efficient one week, lethargic and inept the next. The result is a pattern of impressive wins (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh last year, at Denver and at San Diego this year) and maddening defeats (Washington and Cleveland last year, Arizona and San Francisco this year).

As encouraged as Davis might be with Oakland's 4-0 record in the AFC West, he's surely enraged by the 2-7 record in the other nine games.

How does Cable (15-26 as Raiders head coach) explain the September loss to the Cardinals, or the ensuing loss to the Texans? And how does his boss swallow the vacant performances against the 49ers and in the critical home loss to Miami?

At a time when Davis has to decide what to do with his coach, rest assured that Cable's contract, which expires at the end of the season, will be as much a factor as his overall record or the improvement made in 2010.

Cable likely will be the first Raiders coach in the Davis era to post a losing record as interim coach (4-8), in his first full season (5-11) and his second full season (6-7). All such previous coaches -- Mike Shanahan, Norv Turner and Lane Kiffin -- returning for a second season were gone shortly afterward.

Though the bar for has been dramatically lowered in recent years, this season has given Davis enough data to conclude Cable may be what he has been, a solid head coach who doesn't win consistently enough to offset his lack of brilliance.

So Cable's job is not on the line, not on basis of performance. Either he'll be back because Al doesn't want to make a change while facing labor unrest, or he'll be gone because Al has seen enough.

Know this: Davis is one guy who wasn't laughing and isn't laughing.

He loathes news reports, detests dealing with reports of internal strife within his organization and his team was hours removed from allowing 31 second-half points -- likely sealing Marshall's fate -- to choke away a crucial game.

Indeed, Davis likely would have had a very sharp, very Al reaction to any coach who dared to laugh about anything after last Monday:

"What the bleep are you laughing about?"

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com