The first of the National Football League's dozen invitations to the playoffs was mailed out Sunday and as far as the NFC is concerned, there should be some more being dispatched shortly.
But in the AFC, those hoping to make a run at the Super Bowl have little or no room in which to breathe.
Green Bay won for the first time in three weeks Sunday, a 30-20 decision over Chicago, and that victory made the Packers champions of the NFC North. Green Bay improved to 9-3 and all three of the other teams in the division are 3-9.
And with only six of the 16 teams in the NFC having a winning record, the likely playoff teams from that conference have come into focus.
Philadelphia, a 10-3 winner over St. Louis Sunday, owns a three-game lead in the NFC East; while San Francisco, which fought off Seattle, 31-24, is three games ahead in the NFC West. That leaves Tampa Bay, Atlanta and New Orleans, separated by one game in the NFC South, as the other teams from that conference expected to make it into the postseason.
The only other team from the NFC to have even a remote chance to break into the playoff picture is New York and the Giants dropped to 6-6 Sunday with a dramatic loss to Tennessee.
The AFC, however, could wind up being all about tiebreakers.
No matter the result of Monday night's game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, there will be 13 teams separated by just two games.
There is a one-game difference between the top and the bottom of the AFC East and one game separates the top three teams in the AFC West.
Things tightened up in the AFC Sunday thanks to Tennesse's thrilling rally against the Giants, San Diego's overtime decision over Denver and Buffalo's impressive, if snowy, victory over Miami.
Green Bay finally earned its playoff spot thanks to two Brett Favre touchdown passes and five turnovers by the Bears.
"It's certainly one of the goals we set to achieve this season," Packers Coach Mike Sherman said. "It's very significant, but it's certainly not the ultimate goal we set for ourselves."
Favre finished 24 of 42 for 222 yards with a fumble and interception, but improved to 33-0 all-time at home when the kickoff temperature is below 34 degrees. Favre also improved to 18-4 all-time against the Bears.
Elsewhere around the NFL:
-- Tennessee tied the game in dramatic fashion with nine seconds remaining in regulation and Joe Nedney kicked a 38-yard, overtime field goal to give the Titans a 32-29 victory over the New York Giants. Listed as questionable prior to the game with rib and toe injuries, Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair passed for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns. One of the scores came on a nine-yard pass to tight end Frank Wycheck with nine seconds left to bring the Titans within two. McNair then tied the game by running for the two-point conversion.
-- Michael Vick capped another electrifying performance with a 46-yard touchdown run 2:25 into overtime to lift the Atlanta Falcons to a 30-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The NFL's fastest quarterback, Vick ran for 173 yards and two touchdowns and also threw for a 39-yard score to help the Falcons (8-3-1) extend their unbeaten streak to eight games. Atlanta maintained its strong hold on a wild-card position and will visit division leading Tampa Bay next week.
-- Aaron Brooks threw two third-quarter touchdown passes and New Orleans forced four turnovers in fighting off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-20. Tampa Bay scored with 2:49 remaining to cut its deficit from 11 to three points and Coach Jon Gruden decided not to try an onside kick. The buccaneers never saw the ball again as New Orleans closed to within one game of the division-leading Bucs. Atlanta is only a half game out of the lead.
-- Drew Bledsoe threw for 306 yards three touchdown passes in poor conditions as the Buffalo Bills knocked out quarterback Ray Lucas and kept their playoff hopes alive with a 38-21 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Buffalo snapped an eight-game home losing streak against AFC East foes in a game that began and ended in a heavy snowstorm. Buffalo survived despite a huge game from Miami running back Ricky Williams, who carried 27 times for 228 yards and two scores.
-- LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for a career-high 220 yards and three touchdowns and Steve Christie, given a second chance, kicked the winning field goal in overtime to give the San Diego Chargers 30-27 victory over the Denver Broncos. The win moved the Chargers (8-4) into sole possession of first place in the AFC West, a half game ahead of the Oakland Raiders (7-4).
-- Jeff Reed, a rookie who left his job cutting grass on a dairy farm last week to replace the injured Todd Peterson as Pittsburgh's kicker, equaled a club record with six field goals and boosted the Steelers to a 25-23 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Reed, who kicked three field goals in his debut against Cincinnati last week, converted attempts from 24, 29, 30, 46, 33 and 50 yards. Gary Anderson set the club record when he made six field goals against Denver in 1988.
-- Garrison Hearst scored three touchdowns Sunday to lead San Francisco to a 31-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks and boost the 49ers three games in front of the NFC West with four to play. Hearst scored on a five-yard run and a pair of one-yarders. He became the first 49er to rush for three touchdowns in a game since Ricky Watters in 1992.
-- Sparked by a dominating defense that sacked Kurt Warner eight times and forced five turnovers, the Philadelphia Eagles dealt the playoff hopes of the defending NFC champion St. Louis Rams a potentially fatal blow with a 10-3 victory. Defensive end N.D. Kalu led the defensive charge with four sacks while end Hugh Douglas had two.
-- Marvin Harrison caught nine passes and Indianapolis sacked David Carr six times in a methodical 19-3 victory over the Houston Texans, keeping the Colts alone in first place in the AFC South. Indianapolis (8-4) has put together four straight wins in the same season for the first time since an 11-game run in 1999. In that year, the Colts went 13-3 en route to winning the AFC East.
-- Jeff Blake threw a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap with 5:12 remaining, finishing off a Baltimore rally and giving the Ravens a 27-23 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The NFL's worst team, the Bengals (1-11) squandered a nine-point second-half lead and still made it interesting as they usually have this season. Cincinnati ran out of downs on the baltimore 10 in the final seconds.
-- Rookie Dee Brown rushed for a career-high 122 yards in his first NFL start and the Carolina defense forced five turnovers, including two in the final eight minutes, giving the Panthers a 13-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Carolina (4-8) won its first three games of the season but then lost eight in a row. The Panthers finally ended their slide against the Browns (6-6), who had won four of their previous five games to move within a half game of first place Pittsburgh in the AFC Central.
-- Priest Holmes ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns as the Kansas City Chiefs opened a 35-point lead at halftime and handed the Arizona Cardinals their sixth straight defeat, 49-0. Dante Hall added the longest punt return in franchise history for the Chiefs (6-6), who posted their second-largest margin of victory.