Sport Seattle, led by Russell Wilson, are favourites to win next month's Super Bowl

For devotees of the NFL, this is as good as it gets – the divisional round of the play-offs, four games pitting the regular season’s finest against four challengers already battle-hardened by victory in last weekend’s ever-treacherous wild-card round. And in 2014 there’s an extra twist: the prospect that one of the longest, most painful droughts in US sport might be near an end.

Glasvegas' James Allan: 'There's no end to the Boss's abilities'

The first piece of music I ever bought was "Streets of Philadelphia". I was 11. It's a love song. A message of love, highlighting pure community and freedom of faith. I like those things. I really do. When I was a little boy, I never wanted to admit I liked music or girls. I was really crippled by shyness and for reasons I don't understand now, I hid the tape from my mum. I was attracted to his obvious soul, good heart and pure genius. The movie Philadelphia and the Care Bears cartoons broke my heart and made me want to show compassion to others.

The Roots, Royal Festival Hall, London

Collaboration’s all you need

Hollyweird: Mario Lanza

Everything about Mario Lanza was enormous: his talent, his prowess on stage, his ego, his lifestyle, and, often, his weight.

Neighbours who beat 'rape' man escape charges

Philadelphia's police commissioner says there will be no charges against neighbors who beat a man sought for questioning in the rape of an 11-year-old girl.

Neil Young: After the gold rush, the harvest

Sixties hippie, country-rock superstar, grunge godfather, modern protest singer... Neil Young's career is remarkable. Andy Gill gives thanks that the first segment of his huge retrospective is here at last

London legacy job goes overseas

A deputy mayor from Philadelphia will head the company set up to ensure the long-term use of London's 2012 Olympic facilities.

Bruce Anderson: The system isn't that broke - it only needs a slight fixing

An eruption of Poujadist anger will not improve our system of government

Hip-hop offers a new message

The aggressive image hides an intelligent aspect, says Ian Burrell

Researchers find first common autism gene

Researchers have found the first common genetic link to autism and said yesterday it could potentially account for 15 per cent of the disease's cases.

Death Row calling: The man broadcasting to save his life

Mumia Abu-Jamal, a US journalist, faces renewed calls for him to be put to death. Ian Burrell reports

The Ten Best NBA Playoffs

On Wednesday night the marathon 2008-2009 NBA regular season came to a close.

Hearst threatens to close historic 'San Francisco Chronicle'

San Francisco could become the biggest city in the US without a daily newspaper if the San Francisco Chronicle's owner, Hearst, follows through on a threat to shut its doors.

Album: Charles Evans, The King of All Instruments, (Hot Cup)

The instrument in question is the mighty baritone sax, which Philadelphia-born Charles Evans turns into a quartet, chamber group or bari-choir through judicious overdubbing on this intermittently amazing solo recording.

Obama heads along a historic trail to the White House

Crowds line 135-mile rail route to Washington
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
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Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
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After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
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Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
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Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
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Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas