Who to start Week 15: Spencer Ware or Jordan Howard?

Each week of the regular season in "Fantasy Audibles" I'll use the SAP Player Comparison Tool to help you make the right decisions when it comes to difficult lineup dilemmas. The tool uses several factors to help make an educated suggestion, including past performance, matchup, consistency, upside, and intangibles. It finally appears as if the tool is fully operational (though not 100 percent reliable), so I'll use a combination of the tool and old-fashioned fantasy methods to help make a determination on four difficult Week 15 matchup decisions below. Let's take a look at the start/sit questions haunting some of our fantasy readers and try to help them set a winning lineup.

Who should I start at QB: Drew Brees or Dak Prescott?



In a shocking turn of events, the Saints offense has been terrible the past few weeks. And Drew Brees is a part of the problem. He's posted back-to-back games with no touchdowns and three interceptions, becoming the first quarterback since Tyler Palko (Chiefs, 2011) to achieve that feat of football sadness. Brees' struggles have contributed to the team committing 13 giveaways in the last five games, and scoring 13 or fewer points in their last two games. Now, Brees and co. have to travel to Arizona where the Cardinals allow just 14.3 points per game (second in the NFL) and 294 total yards per game (fifth). That's a tough draw for a high-flying offense, much less one stumbling like the Saints. Aiding Brees' fantasy outlook is the potential return of Michael Thomas, who missed last week with a foot injury. A healthy-ish Thomas would certainly help Brees be able to find holes in the loaded Arizona secondary. If Thomas misses another game, however, Brees could be looking at one of the worst statistical streaks of his career, as he's never had three straight games with no touchdowns and multiple interceptions.

Has Dak Prescott hit the rookie wall? Judging by his last three games, that might just be the case. Granted, he's faced some tough defenses (Vikings, Giants), but Dak hasn't thrown for more than 200 yards or thrown multiple passing touchdowns since Week 11. He's scored four total touchdowns the last three weeks (one rushing), but committed three turnovers. As a whole, the Dallas offense has cratered, partially from Prescott's struggles. This unit averages 26.2 points per game and 385.2 yards per game on the year, but over the last two weeks averages just 12 ppg and 262 ypg. Things aren't about to get any easier against a Tampa Bay defense playing lights out football, and a Tampa Bay offense that rivals Dallas in terms of time of possession. This figures to be a low-scoring affair as both offenses grind out the clock while their defenses keep the opposing team out of the end zone. Since Week 10, the Bucs rank first in points per game allowed (12.8), takeaways (14) and passer rating allowed (62.5), and third in third-down percentage (29.4). They racked up these stats against the likes of Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith, so it wasn't like they beat up on some low-level quarterback scrubs. This all spells a tough outing for Prescott, with minimal scoring opportunities.

Verdict: While both slumping quarterbacks face tough matchups, for this week I'd suggest turning back to Brees. He's a more accomplished, veteran passer set to get the top weapon in his passing attack back. Prescott and company have converted two of 24 third down attempts and now must attempt to get right against one of the league's best third-down defenses. There's just too much stacked against the rookie this week to trust him in the playoffs.

Who should I start at RB: Spencer Ware or Jordan Howard?



Since returning from a concussion in Week 10, Ware has been solid for fantasy owners, but not up to the level he set earlier in the season. Ware has yet to rush for more than 70 yards since returning after crossing that figure in five of his first seven games. His role in the passing game has dipped as well (potentially because of Travis Kelce's expanding role), as he averaged 3.3 targets per game in Weeks 1-8, but just 2.6 in Weeks 10-14. Ware's next opponent, the Titans, are among the best units in the league at stopping the run, allowing just 86.6 yards per game on the ground at a 4.1 yards per carry average. At least for Ware, the volume should be there as 84 percent of the backfield opportunities (targets and carries) have come his way since he returned from his injury.

In a bit of an upset, Jordan Howard currently sits as the RB10 with three weeks left to play. He's taken over the Bears backfield, and while some might be concerned that Howard played just 61 percent of the snaps last week against the Lions, he still owned 87 percent of the backfield opportunities. If the Bears hope to beat the Packers on Sunday, they'll need a heavy dose of Howard and his 5 yards per carry average to keep Aaron Rodgers on the sideline. The Packers run defense has toughened up after getting smashed by Rob Kelley in Week 11, allowing just 4.4 yards per carry and zero rushing touchdowns in the past three games. The only risk with Howard is that he could lose playing time if the Bears fall behind big quickly (a definite possibility). Last week against the Lions eight of Jeremy Langford's 18 snaps came on passing plays in the fourth quarter (Howard played on seven passing plays in the fourth). The point is if the Bears are chasing the Packers this backfield reverts into a bit more of a committee, which would hurt Howard's outlook.

Verdict: In spite of the fact that Howard could lose playing time if the Bears fall behind big, his role as the lead back in a better matchup with better touchdown upside makes him the start here. Howard is averaging 110.6 scrimmage yards per game compared to just 73.6 for Ware since Week 10. Howard is the safer floor play and possesses more touchdown upside, as Ware lost out on a goal-line score to Charcandrick West last week.

Who should I start at WR: T.Y. Hilton or Mike Evans?



On paper, T.Y. Hilton is heading into a dreadful matchup. The Vikings boast one of the league's top defenses, especially inside their brand new stadium. The defense on the season is first in points per game (17.3), second in total yards per game (304.3), and third in both sacks (35) and passer rating allowed (77). No quarterback has been hit more than Andrew Luck this year (96 times), which isn't a stat you want to have traveling on the road into one of the league's best pass rushes. However, working in Hilton's favor is the fact that he should see a wealth of targets come his way with Donte Moncrief (hamstring) looking likely to miss this game. So far in 2016, using the Rotoviz Game Splits app we can see that Hilton averages seven catches, 112 yards, 0.8 touchdowns and 10.6 targets per game when Moncrief is out of the lineup, but 5.38 catches, 86 yards, 0.25 touchdowns and 9.25 targets per game with Moncrief alongside him. Even though Hilton is facing a strong secondary and his quarterback could be running for life, that level of volume should allow him to at least post solid totals. But as we all know, he has game-breaking speed and needs just one big play to turn in a solid fantasy outing.

During the Buccaneers five-game winning streak, Mike Evans owns a 27.5 percent share of Jameis Winston's targets but has struggled over the last two games. He's seen 14 targets over those contests but hauled in just seven for 80 yards and no touchdowns. For comparison's sake, Cameron Brate also saw 14 targets in that span but managed 133 yards and one score. Evans drew several pass interference penalties in those games, but we don't get points for those, sadly. Looking ahead to his matchup on Sunday night against the Cowboys, he figures to draw shadow coverage from Brandon Carr, who was relatively successful in that role against Odell Beckham Jr. last week. Yes, Beckham scored a long touchdown, but per Next Gen Stats Carr allowed just 1.9 yards of separation at the time of target against Beckham, after allowing 3 yards of separation at target prior to that game. Sticking with this Next Gen Stats metric, Evans' struggles could be attributed to his inability to gain separation of late. In Weeks 1-12 he averaged 2.2 yards of separation when targeted, but that has dropped to 1.8 yards over the last two weeks. With both offenses also controlling the clock, opportunities for Evans will already be limited. He'll need to shake off whatever is ailing him against Carr, though we know Evans is capable of doing this based on past performance against top corners.

Verdict: While both are top-end options, if forced to choose just one I'd rather ride with the hot hand set to see a monstrous target share in T.Y. Hilton. Even if Andrew Luck is harassed all game, Hilton just needs one play to approach his ceiling. Evans on the other hand might be in more of a grind-it-out battle between two offenses adept at eating up the clock. Those limited opportunities are concerning enough to tip the scales to Hilton for me.


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