Tom Brady is preparing to appear in his seventh career Super Bowl on Sunday, but even though the Patriots were favored to get there for the bulk of the season, there were hurdles they had to clear along the way in order to play for the ultimate prize.
Here are five obstacles the Patriots overcame on the way to Super Bowl LI.
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Sebastian Vollmer missed the entire season due to injury
Sebastian Vollmer has been an offensive tackle for the Patriots for the past seven seasons, but he was placed on IR in training camp after undergoing shoulder surgery in August. He probably would have stated at right tackle this season, but Marcus Cannon ended up taking his place.
USA TODAY SportsGreg M. Cooper
Rob Ninkovich was suspended for the first four games of the season
Starting defensive end Rob Ninkovich was suspended for the first four games of the season after a positive test for a banned substance. He returned in Week 5 and started in 11 of his 12 regular-season appearances, and finished the year with four sacks on the season.
New England traded Jamie Collins
Jamie Collins had started at linebacker for the Patriots the past couple of seasons, but after the team reportedly was considering moving him to a part-time role and was worried about the potential consequences that might have had in the locker room, New England traded him to the Browns for a third-round pick in the middle of the season.
The Patriots finished the year with the league's No.1-ranked scoring defense.
Rob Gronkowski was lost for the season with a back injury
Gronk is a huge weapon for Brady and the Patriots when healthy, and he had a handful of big games in the 2016 season, but he was placed on IR in December after undergoing back surgery to repair a herniated disc. New England's offense has remained incredible, even with Gronkowski out for the season.
Tom Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made sure that the Patriots would eventually pay for the Deflategate scandal, and Tom Brady served a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season. New England went 3-1 in Brady's absence, helping to set the stage for a 14-2 campaign that allowed the Patriots to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in the AFC.
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