Quarterbacks still alive in the hunt for Lombardi: Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.

Find me a person in America who doesn’t know at least three out of four of those household names. And if by chance they’re not familiar with all four, the one they likely don’t know is on the verge of taking home honors as the 2016 NFL MVP.

Quickly, take a look at the four quarterbacks those guys beat this past weekend: Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Brock Osweiler and Alex Smith.

Two of the four are considered excellent quarterbacks – one previous Super Bowl winner and one who could legitimately stake claim for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year if it weren’t for his backfield mate, Ezekiel Elliot. Smith is serviceable. Osweiler is replaceable (by some guy named Tom Savage, in fact).

So, of the eight quarterbacks competing in the NFL’s 2016 Divisional round, it’s fair to say that six should be considered elite. Of the four still playing, only Ryan is currently on the outside looking in when it comes to inclusion in the “Hall of Fame” conversation. Should he win a Super Bowl next month, it’s conceivable that his name will eventually surface in those talks. In his career, he’s only had one season in which he didn’t throw for 3,000 yards (Ryan threw for 2,916 in an injury-shortened, 14-game campaign his second year in the league).

That teams led by elite quarterbacks are still alive is no aberration, either. Take a look at the eight signal callers who stood last in 2015: Carson Palmer, Rodgers, Wilson, Cam Newton (last year’s MVP), Smith, Brady, Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning. And in 2014? Andrew Luck, Manning, Joe Flacco, Brady, Tony Romo, Rodgers, Newton and Wilson.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that of the 24 quarterbacks who made up the NFL’s quarterfinalists over the past three seasons, only three would indisputably not be considered “elite” (Osweiler once and Smith twice).

You see where this is headed, right?

In order to succeed in America’s favorite postseason tournament, a team must – must! – have an elite quarterback. It’s just that simple. Of course, there are outliers – maybe Tampa Bay’s Brad Johnson in XXXVII or Baltimore’s Trent Dilfer in XXXV – but in those rare instances, a world-class defense is required. Manning, who wasn’t at his best last year, won Super Bowl 50 with a historically great defense. While nobody would argue that the Manning was the “same ol’ Manning” in 2015, in retrospect, it could have very well been the Broncos mundane offense that made him look not-so-elite. No matter the year, Manning was, and always will be, elite.

So, as the Broncos shuffle coaches and coordinators and roll up their sleeves in hopes of improving that dreadful offensive line, there’s just one question that matters most: Does Denver have an elite quarterback on the current roster?

Assessment of Denver’s quarterback situation was a hotly debated topic from training camp all the way to the fourth quarter of a meaningless game in Week 17 against Oakland.

But can’t we all agree that Denver does not currently have an elite quarterback?

Trevor Siemian did some nice things, and in total fairness, his offensive line provided a built-in excuse. But elite? I don’t think so. He’s a nice backup, the second coming of Brian Griese, serviceable.

And wherever it is you stand on Paxton Lynch doesn’t matter. The Broncos decided for us he wasn’t elite. It’s fair to be excited about his potential, but to assume he’s elite would be irresponsible. If it’s “In John We Trust,” then we can trust that John didn’t trust Lynch, not yet.

Besides, “time” can’t be an excuse. Prescott, a rookie, was one miraculous Aaron Rodgers throw (and arguably a bad call or two) away from playing in the NFC Championship next weekend. Brady was a second-year Pro-Bowler and a Super Bowl winner. Wilson was a Pro-Bowler in each of his first two seasons, and a picked up a ring in his second. Roethlisberger won one in his second year. Rodgers was forced to wait behind a Hall of Famer, which undoubtedly helped, but he too won a Super Bowl in his second year as the Packers starter. Ryan guided the Falcons to the playoffs as a rookie, as has played in the postseason in five of his nine seasons.

Having an elite quarterback isn’t easy. But it’s also not “optional” – not if a team wants to have a puncher’s chance at winning a Super Bowl.

The annual and ever-stated goal of the Broncos organization, one of the best in all of sports, is to win the Super Bowl. History suggests that they’d be crazy to maintain that goal yet enter the 2017 season without an elite quarterback.

Tony Romo wants to be a Bronco, but the Broncos may not want Tony Romo.

Why not?

Good quarterbacks can win in the regular season; only elite quarterbacks win in the postseason. At present, the Broncos don’t have one of those.