You're Joe Vikefan. You paint your face; think Prince adopted the color purple in homage to his local team; lobby for former long snapper Mike Morris to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; stick team flags on the AMC Gremlin you drive because most of your discretionary income goes to season tickets; and save your sick days for Mondays during the NFL season.

Let me ask -- or if you're in New Orleans and want to get used to the local dialect, "aks" -- you a question.

Do you really want the Vikings to win on Monday? Or should you want them to lose?

If the Vikings beat New Orleans, they will be 2-3 and in line with the Souhan Plan for the season -- start 2-3, get Bryant McKinnie and Madieu Williams back, and use a deep roster and an easy schedule to batter your way to a winning record.

The Souhan Plan features a few serious flaws, though, apart from the identity of the author. The Souhan Plan would allow coach Brad Childress to win just enough games against mediocre teams to contend in a mediocre division and save his job.

Is that what's best for the franchise?

If the Vikings win on Monday, they're set up to succeed, but they're not set up to succeed on a grand scale. A few gimme victories over Detroit and the 49ers could enable Childress to win just enough to proclaim another season of progress, from 6-10 as a rookie to 8-8 as a sophomore to nine or 10 victories in his third season.

Childress has proved himself to be a decent and organized man and a passionate football coach. He has even revealed himself to be a likable guy, which is sure to get him kicked out of the NFL coaches' union.

He has not proved, though, that he possesses that intangible quality, that glint of inspiration, that presidential or militaristic sheen of charisma that elevates his team or wins seemingly unwinnable games. What we have seen so far is the handiwork of a solid career assistant coach, not a born leader.

Childress is, however, consistent. His teams run the ball well and stop the run well. They give up big pass plays but produce few of their own. That has been true no matter which of his five starting quarterbacks have taken the snaps.

Close your eyes and envision the elite teams in the NFL, and what immediately springs to mind? Elite quarterbacks and receivers making big plays. No matter how good your running game is, and Childress' teams have been exceptional at running the ball, you're going to face obvious passing situations sooner or later, and you need a quarterback and a receiver who can thrive under duress.

It is the passing game that produces most of the big plays in football, that converts difficult third downs, that allows for fourth-quarter comebacks, that creates leads that enable your pass rushers to win games.

To date, Childress and his bosses have made quarterback and receiver their lowest priorities, and that's why the 274 passing yards the Vikings managed last week against Tennessee represented the highest passing total of the Childress Era. Which is pathetic.

Under Childress, the Vikings tend to win only when a play that shouldn't produce a touchdown -- a simple handoff or the defense causing a turnover -- produces a touchdown.

Under Childress, big plays are often happy accidents, not the residue of design.

So now it's on to New Orleans, a flawed team created from a different mold, a team built around a quarterback, a sophisticated passing offense and the big play.

The Saints have had their share of key injuries, slumps and problems under coach Sean Payton, who was hired the same winter as Childress. They have also played an entertaining style and qualified for an NFC Championship Game.

Childress needs a few big victories to catch up to peers such as Payton, and maybe he'll get them.

The worst scenario for the Vikings, though, features Childress winning just enough to keep his job, and keep the Vikings offense in the Stone Age.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. •