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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 21 August, 2019

Zombie cockroaches, the AFC South and your NFL week 7 preview

The division continually flatters to deceive, says Steve O’Rourke.

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

Updated Oct 21st 2018, 9:40 AM

OF ALL THE mythical creatures that humans have invented to keep ourselves awake at night, zombies have always terrified and fascinated me the most.

Because of that, I read a lot about the walking dead and one of my favourite books featuring zombies — though they call them ‘hungeries’ — is M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts.

The plot focuses on a mutation of the fungus ophiocordyceps unilateralis. In the real world, the fungus was first discovered in 1859 and first spelt correctly about a decade later.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis infects the brains of certain species of ants and causes a zombie-like change in behaviour. The ant is both alive and dead at the same time.

Once infected, the ant leaves its nest and attaches itself to the underside of a leaf where it stays until it dies when its brain explodes 4-10 days later, spreading the fungus spores across as wide an area as possible.

But it’s far from the only example of zombie-esque behaviour in nature.

From the STD that turns crickets into zombie sex machines — only they spread the STD rather than reproduce — to the wasp that turns caterpillars into zombie bodyguards for their larvae, nature’s horrors know no end.

My favourite however, if favourite is the right word, is the emerald cockroach wasp. On paper, the dynamic between the wasps and cockroaches looks like any other parasite-prey relationship.

The female wasp stings the cockroach, lays an egg on its abdomen and, once hatched, the hungry larva feeds on the cockroach.

But that’s not enough for these wasps. Instead, their sting leaves the cockroach with the ability to walk, but robs it entirely of the power to control its own movement. The wasp then attaches itself to the cockroach and leads it on a merry dance of death.

And the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to believe the AFC South does the same thing. Every year, pundits and fans get sucked into thinking this will be the season the division stops being, all told, the worst in football. And yet, most years… it is.

NFL 2018: Colts vs Jets OCT 14 Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

At the moment, through six weeks, the Tennessee Titans lead the division despite scoring touchdowns in just five of their 25 quarters of football.

The Houston Texans are second despite losing their first three games and the third place Jacksonville Jaguars — who gave us so much hope for a changing of the guard last year — have lost three of their last four and just shipped 40 points to a Cowboys team that aren’t exactly world beaters.

The bottom dwelling Colts have scored more points than any other team in the division but, sadly, Andrew Luck can’t play defence.

One of these teams will reach the playoffs and could even — as we saw last year — cause an upset or two.

But in the new era of high-octane offence and huge points totals, the AFC South feels like the zombie husk trailing behind the rest of the league.

Week 7 picks (season record 51-39-2)

Sunday – 2.30pm

LA Chargers @ Tennessee Titans – London
A west coast team travelling to London for a 10.30am kick off would usually be a recipe for trouble but the Chargers are quietly going about their business as one of the NFL’s best teams. They may not have the flash of the Chiefs on offence, but they certainly don’t have their holes on defence either.
Pick: Chargers

Sunday – 6pm 

New England Patriots @ Chicago Bears
The Bears came out of a two-week hibernation last week and somehow forgot they were the league’s best defence, conspiring to lose to a Dolphins team marshalled by Brock Osweiler. The Patriots have looked great since I wrote them off four weeks ago, but it will be interesting to see how they cope with the Chicago pass rush.
Pick: Patriots

Buffalo Bills @ Indianapolis Colts
If the Bills start Nate Peterman, the team from Little Giants would beat them, but it looks like Derek Anderson has been given the nod. As I’ve mentioned already, the Colts have had no issues putting points on the board and, this week at least, should have some respite on defence too.
Pick: Bills

Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars

I’m not sure how the Texans are on a three-game win streak despite their offensive line having more holes than the Flat Earth Theory, but here we are. As mentioned several times in these previews, divisional games can be funny to pick but I expect Jacksonville to bounce back.
Pick: Jaguars

Detroit Lions @ Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins captured victory from the jaws of defeat last week after so nearly throwing away the game at the one-yard line in the first place. Head coach Adam Gase holds at 20-18 record despite starting a back-up at quarterback in 20 of those games.
Pick: Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings @ New York Jets
A quick Google search of Todd Bowles’ name brings up a remarkable mix of everything from ‘Todd Bowles’ job is safe for this season’ to ‘Todd Bowles on the hot seat.’ That probably says as much about the New York media as it does the Jets’ head coach but I fancy them to spring a surprise this week.
Pick: Jets

Carolina Panthers @ Philadelphia Eagles
Will the real Carolina Panthers please stand up? Despite being a likely playoff bound team, inexplicable losses like the one suffered at the hands of Washington last week are hardly a surprise. The Eagles, after a slow start, appear to be clicking into gear.
Pick: Eagles

Cleveland Browns @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After I praised the Browns for staying competitive, they promptly went out and were hammered by the Chargers in week six. The Bucs sacked their defensive coordinator this week but you can’t help but feel the problems in Tampa run deeper than just Mike Smith.
Pick: Browns

Sunday – 9.05pm

New Orleans Saints @ Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are coming off an 11-sack performance against the Titans while Drew Brees has been basking in the glory of becoming the NFL’s all-time leading pass leader. The Saints have a poor record against the Ravens in Baltimore and could struggle this week again.
Pick: Ravens

Sunday – 9.25pm 

Dallas Cowboys @ Washington

I don’t know what was more shocking last weekend; the Cowboys putting 40 points on the Jags after struggling on offence all season or Conor McGregor’s attempt at playing quarterback. Washington are the NFL’s Jekyll and Hyde team and have an atrocious record against Dallas losing six of the last seven.
Pick: Cowboys

LA Rams @ San Francisco 49ers

The Rams are undefeated and boast the NFL’s most potent offense. The 49ers’ defense ranks 25th in the league. On paper, this looks like it should be one of the biggest mismatches of the season. But, divisional fixtures can be trap games for high-flying teams.
Pick: 49ers

Monday – 1.20am 

Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs
After suffering their first defeat of the season, the Chiefs will seek home comforts to bounce back against a Bengals team that suffered a heartbreaking last-minute loss to the Steelers in week six. Expect Kansas City, and their potent offence, to return to winning ways.
Pick: Chiefs

Tuesday – 1.15am

New York Giants @ Atlanta Falcons
The world’s a rotten enough place without continually putting the Giants in prime time football. At least on this side of the Atlantic, we can sleep through it.
Pick: Falcons

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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