3rd downs may decide Super Bowl

Richard Sherman and the Seahawks have been unreal in third-down situations. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Every Super Bowl winner needs a key stop on defense at some point during a postseason run. Getting a stop on third down remains the most common way of ending an offensive possession in the NFL and it should be a big factor for both teams in Super Bowl XLVIII. While the team that converts at a higher rate on third down is only 7-7 in the past 14 Super Bowls, these games often swing on one or two crucial third-down situations.

Fans of the Seahawks should understand this very well. In Super Bowl XL, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger converted a third-and-28 -- the longest third-down conversion in Super Bowl history -- with a 37-yard pass to Hines Ward. The Steelers went on to score a touchdown and never trailed again. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception on third-and-18 in the fourth quarter and the Steelers put the game away with another score.

Broncos QB Peyton Manning is also familiar with big third downs. With a 10-3 lead in Super Bowl XLIV against New Orleans, he watched Pierre Garcon drop a critical pass on third-and-4, setting in motion events that led to Manning not throwing another pass until the third quarter, after the Saints used a surprise onside kick to take the lead. In the fourth quarter, Manning's third-and-5 pass with the Colts down 24-17 was intercepted and returned 74 yards for a game-clinching touchdown by Tracy Porter.

In 2014, Manning will look for redemption against a historically stingy Seattle pass defense. Meanwhile, the Denver pass defense has been the worst in the league on third down, setting up a Super Bowl that would seem to favor the Seahawks in crucial situations, but let's break down the tape and numbers to see who really has the advantage.