The New England Patriots didn't get a whole lot of respect for being a great team after winning last year's Super Bowl, but they haven't done much this season to prove their critics wrong.

The Pats actually looked unbeatable early in the season when they started 3-0 and putting up big offensive numbers.

But it has been a struggle ever since for Bill Belichick's gang, and the Patriots could find themselves out of the playoffs unless they beat the Dolphins on Sunday.

Part of the Patriots' problems has been an over-reliance on their passing game. New England threw the ball all over the place in its opener against Pittsburgh and that worked out great, but there has been little balance offensively and Tom Brady wasn't able to keep up his early-season pace.

Antowain Smith was a major factor in the Patriots' success last season, but he has been almost an afterthought this season.

Of course, it doesn't help that New England has a mediocre offensive line. It wasn't great last year, either, but it somehow got the job done better than this season.

Brady is a decent quarterback, but he's not nearly as good as some people suggested early this season.

Defensively, the Patriots have had their problems stopping the run.

A reason is a defensive line that features Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour and little else.

One of the biggest reasons New England won the Super Bowl last year was the defense's ability to stop opponents once they got inside the 20-yard line. The Patriots haven't done that this season at all, and that has cost them.

The secondary now is hobbled at the end of the season, with starting cornerback Otis Smith out because of a shoulder injury.

The New England special teams are still pretty good, especially when it comes to Pro Bowl kicker Adam Vinatieri.

The bottom line is this is not a Super Bowl team the Dolphins must defeat on Sunday, but it is a team that still has some talent and could be a factor in the playoffs if they make it.

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