Halloween Night Is a Revenge Game for Xavier Woods

Vikings Cowboys
Xavier Woods

Normally when a website advertises a revenge game, it’s an author-driven narrative designed to hype the stakes of a football game.

But this isn’t that.

From the man’s mouth, Minnesota Vikings safety Xavier Woods perceives Sunday night’s Halloween matchup versus his old team, the Dallas Cowboys, as a something-to-prove outing.

Dallas didn’t want Woods back evidently, and the 26-year-old remembers. Therefore, there is added motivation for Woods to stick to Dallas, which will bring Vikings fans delight.

Woods is showcasing a terrific first season in Minnesota. In 2020, the Vikings employed Anthony Harris at Woods’ spot, and the ex-Viking experienced a down year after leading the NFL in interceptions in 2019. Minnesota’s brass decided Harris was not worth the long-term investment, allowing him to hit free agency, where he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Through seven weeks, Woods owns a 71.0 grade from Pro Football Focus, the 13th-best score among all NFL safeties. The man he replaced, Harris, has a 53.1 grade, which ranks 70th in the league. So, the Woods-over-Harris decision is fully vindicated as the midpoint of 2021 approaches.

As for the Cowboys in primetime this weekend, Woods and the Vikings defense has a daunting assignment. Well, potentially daunting. It is unclear if Dak Prescott, who is nursing a calf injury, will play versus Minnesota. He injured the calf in Week 6 against the New England Patriots, and most folks believed the malady was minor.

That might’ve been a false diagnosis.

On Thursday, Prescott began walking back his forecast for playing, stating it was up to the team whether he would play against the Vikings – not his personal pain tolerance. And the assignment for Woods and the Vikings secondary changes with Prescott’s availability. With Prescott, the Vikings would face the NFL’s 10th-best quarterback in 2021 per the numbers and metrics. If the backup Cooper Rush is called upon, well, he’s probably around the 30th-50th best passer in the world. The dynamic of Woods’ task changes mightily with each little tidbit of news on Prescott’s injury. Dallas’ stable of pass-catchers – Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz, and maybe Michael Gallup – is formidable and perhaps the best in the NFL. But if Rush is flinging them the pigskin, the fear subsides.

Something fishy is going on with the Prescott ordeal. The Cowboys were 2.5-point favorites on Thursday morning, but the point spread flipped to 2.5 in favor of the Vikings with the snap of fingers on the same afternoon. It feels more and more like Prescott’s certainty for Halloween action is waffling.

In any event, the Vikings next four games are brutal. They host the Cowboys, travel to the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers, and return home before Thanksgiving to joust the Green Packers, a team that just outlucked the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football.

Whether Prescott or Rush plays, Woods needs the revenge game mindset in his purview. The Vikings must win these challenging games at home because the docket of opponents on the road gets no easier in the coming weeks.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).