With three games to go and the Denver Broncos in the thick of the playoff chase, it seems ludicrous to suggest they may have already won for the last time this season. Or does it?

Before Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans, it seemed reasonable to expect the Broncos would win two of their last four games and secure a wildcard  spot, surrendering their long-held division title to the Raiders or the Chiefs. After Sunday's loss to the Titans, it seems far less reasonable to expect Denver to win two of their last three games and get into the playoffs.

While I still believe that winning two out of three would get the Broncos into the playoffs, that scenario now seems highly unlikely.

The Titans aren't a bad team, but, they are a beatable team, and Denver should have been able to secure a  road victory. But, they didn't. For at least a half, the Broncos' defense couldn't stop the Tennessee offense, and the Broncos' offense looked as lifeless as a slug on a ripe tomato. It was the wrong time for a bad game.

So, now the Broncos face the three top teams in the AFC in consecutive weeks -- the Patriots, the Chiefs, and the Raiders.

To their benefit, Denver will play New England and Oakland at home. But, unfortunately, playing in front of the home crowd is not going to suddenly open up holes for Denver's abysmal running game, or make their defense suddenly look like a brick wall against the run.

The simple fact is there are too many pieces to this team that is missing from January's Super Bowl win. How many pieces?- 22 by my count that was on the Super Bowl roster but isn't today. That's 41% of the Super Bowl winning team that is gone.

We have kept hoping that we could find a way to win anyway - but, while the Broncos have clearly digressed, other teams have unquestionably gotten better. The unfolding season has brought to light the darkness of reality.

Here's how I see things playing out.

The Broncos lose to New England, which is pressing toward securing the AFC's #1 seed. Winning in Kansas City is unlikely, even at the best of times. At that point, even a win the season finale against the Raiders is likely not going to be enough to get the Broncos into the playoffs - and with nothing to play for, I would expect Oakland to springboard into the playoffs with a win in the Mile High City.

The next Bronco win will come in about 9 months - and instead of entering the season as the defending Super Bowl champions, they'll be the underdogs chasing the Chiefs and the Raiders for AFC West supremacy.