The New England Patriots haven’t been right this year. No Julian Edelman on offense, defensive leader Dont’a Hightower is hurt, big-money cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been out and several guys the Pats usually rely on quite simply haven’t been as reliable as usual.

As a result, the defense has been a liability and the offense hasn’t been as effective as we’ve become accustomed to, even with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski doing their thing.

That has a lot of folks overlooking the Patriots in Super Bowl discussions.

“Nobody’s been really good this year,” we keep saying. That’s true, and it’s not what we expected considering that there was buzz that the Patriots could make a run at 16-0 this season.

But it also means nobody else has taken full advantage of New England’s “slow start.” And the reality is the Pats still have Brady, Gronk, Bill Belichick and a share of the top spot in the AFC. The communication issues that seemed to plague them early in the season are a thing of the past, the defense has quietly started to perform well despite those aforementioned injuries and the team has rather sneakily won four straight games.

The Patriots aren’t winning pretty, but they’re winning. And when you consider their track record, you have to figure it’s only a matter of time before they start winning pretty. The Pats are smarter than their counterparts. They benefit from having time to adjust to their opponents. The rest of the league had a chance to gain separation in order to negate the progress New England will inevitably make in the second half of the season. But nobody could pull away and now the Pats should again be considered Super Bowl favorites as November gets underway.

Life savings on the line, you know damn well you aren’t picking the Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks or Los Angeles Rams over the Patriots. No way you can bet against this team right now, even with those injuries. Because nobody is healthy, nobody has been perfect and the Patriots — a team that entered the season as a large favorite to win Super Bowl LII — should be expected to improve.

New England won’t get Edelman or Hightower back, but they won it all last year without Gronkowski. And Gilmore should return soon. And the defense is no longer a problem anyway — they’ve surrendered just 12.8 points per outing during this four-game winning streak.

I know it’s been a complicated year in the NFL, but as we enter the second half of this bizarre campaign it might be smart to apply¬†Occam’s razor.

The Patriots haven’t been who many expected them to be, but they probably remain the NFL’s team to beat as November gets underway.

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com, a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at CBSSports.com, Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Comeback Media, but his day gig has him covering the NFL nationally for Bleacher Report.