We've spent the last two weeks breaking down who we think deserves to win an Emmy this Sunday, but as is the case with all award shows, the difference between "should win" and "will win" is often quite large. So I'm here to put aside all those gooey feelings and just deliver the cold, hard truth. If you're in entering an Emmys pool at work or with your pals, this is your cheat sheet. Let's run down the major categories.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
THE NOMINEES: Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Anna Chlumsky (Veep), Jane Krakowski (30 Rock), Jane Lynch (Glee), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie)
YOUR WINNER: Julie Bowen
WHY: If you don't know by now, learn this about the Emmys: Incumbents do very well, especially if their show is popular with voters. Even in an extra-crowded field of seven contenders, there's little reason to think Julie Bowen won't win for the third straight year. There's a slim chance that voters will transfer their Modern Family love to Sofia Vergara, but people said that last year, too.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY
THE NOMINEES: Ty Burrell (Modern Family), Adam Driver (Girls), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live), Tony Hale (Veep), Ed O'Neill (Modern Family)
YOUR WINNER: Ty Burrell
WHY: Big night for the Dunphy family! Burrell's a former winner who probably deserved it over Modern Family co-star Eric Stonestreet at least one of the two times he's won. But Stonestreet's not in the race this year, probably because most voters weren't patient enough to get to the S's on the ballot (I wish that was a joke). Given Stonestreet's absence, you'll probably see folks talking about this being Ed O'Neill's year, but like with Vergara, there's no real reason to assume Modern Family's patriarch starts winning now.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
THE NOMINEES: Laura Dern (Enlightened), Lena Dunham (Girls), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Tina Fey (30 Rock), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
YOUR WINNER: Julia Louis-Dreyfus
WHY: Unlike some of the other acting categories, this one is jam-packed with six extremely deserving performers, half of whom (Falco, Fey, Louis-Dreyfus) have actually won in this category before. I've seen chatter about a groundswell for Tina Fey in 30 Rock's last season, but those swan-song years don't always mean anything to voters (see: Steve Carell for The Office). The fact of the matter is, Academy members adore JLD and her performance in Veep Season 2 was even better than her Emmy-winning work in Season 1. She's the winner. Sorry, Amy (again).
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY
NOMINEES: Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Louis C.K. (Louie), Don Cheadle (House of Lies), Matt LeBlanc (Episodes), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
YOUR WINNER: Louis C.K.
WHY: This is the hardest race to predict on the comedy side, and it's not close. With last year's winner Jon Cryer not even in the running, former winners Alec Baldwin and Jim Parsons have presumably shot to the top of the list. Jason Bateman is a former nominee and really the singular representative of Arrested Development's return, and neither Don Cheadle nor Matt LeBlanc should be taken too lightly. But I think voters have warmed to Louis C.K. enough over the last three years that this is time to win for more than his writing or stand-up specials. It's either C.K. or Parsons, and I'm betting that this is that one result we're all so happy about this year.
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
THE NOMINEES: 30 Rock, Girls, Louie, Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, Veep
YOUR WINNER: Modern Family
WHY: Four years in a row? Ew. But it's not unprecedented for Emmy voters to recognize the same comedy series this many times in a row. In the mid-'90s, Frasier bum-rushed this category by winning for five straight years. Modern Family should have no trouble grabbing its fourth title, even if you could make a case that the every single one of its competitors was better—most of them substantially better—during the eligibility period. Of course, Everybody Loves Raymond *did* pull off the former-winner-retaking-the-crown-in-its-final-season thing in 2005, so there's also precedent for a random 30 Rock victory, but Raymond wasn't facing a Modern Family-like incumbent beast at the time.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
THE NOMINEES: Morena Baccarin (Homeland), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
YOUR WINNER: Maggie Smith
WHY: What's that Wire quote? Come at the Dame, you best not miss. Look, Anna Gunn should win award, and Christina Hendricks deserves to take home a piece of hardware at some point for her work on Mad Men. But again, it's hard for me to commit to the idea that Emmy voters are willing to go against Maggie Smith in any context, even if she won't show up for the ceremony because she's just that #swag. The good news is that Gunn has one more chance next year, and after the last few episodes we've seen of Breaking Bad, I'm more inclined to believe that 2014 is her time.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
THE NOMINEES: Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad), Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Mandy Patinkin (Homeland), Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
YOUR WINNER: Aaron Paul
WHY: In recent years, no race has been more competitive or harder to predict. There are approximately 87 men who should probably've been nominated here (which makes it pretty weird that, of all the categories, this one doesn't have the expanded field of seven), and you can make the argument that at least five of these men really deserve the award (no thanks, Jim Carter). It'd be lovely for Jonathan Banks to take home the trophy for his last season on Breaking Bad, but how'd that turn out for Giancarlo Esposito last year? Lots of folks are betting on Mandy Patinkin, who did his damndest to center an unwieldy season of Homeland. But guys, Aaron Paul has won this category the last two times he's been in the race, and "Buyout" was a great episode submission.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
THE NOMINEES: Connie Britton (Nashville), Claire Danes (Homeland), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Kerry Washington (Scandal), Robin Wright (House of Cards)
YOUR WINNER: Claire Danes
WHY: This category makes my head hurt. It's over-stuffed at seven deep, yet somehow Julianna Margulies, 2011's winner and 2010's deserving winner, isn't even here. Vera Farmiga and Robin Wright are the big-name newbies, and Connie Britton's apparently an Emmy favorite now, but just the fact that they earned nominations is plenty. And for whatever reason, Mad Men performers just don't do well at all come winning time, so it's not looking good for Elisabeth Moss. As a result, this probably comes down to Claire Danes and Kerry Washington and while it's not quite a toss-up, you can make a strong case for both. If Washington's ever going to win, it's probably going to happen this year. However, Danes cleaned up the awards circuit last year and I simply cannot fathom that being a one-time thing. And no matter what happened to the quality of Homeland in Season 2 (we'll get to that momentarily), Danes was still awesome and she submitted "Q&A," which was an unbelievable episode.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA
THE NOMINEES: Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Damian Lewis (Homeland), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
YOUR WINNER: Damian Lewis
WHY: UGH. C'mon, this is so hard. Hugh Bonneville, Jeff Daniels, and Jon Hamm are just happy to be nominated; that's not necessarily fair, but it's true. But choosing between the incumbent Damian Lewis, the three-time winner Bryan Cranston, and Kevin Spacey, a perceived movie star in a meaty role—yikes. I want to say that Lewis is out because the bud is off the Homeland rose, but he, like Danes, submitted "Q&A." That interrogation sequence alone is worth like 42 awards. Cranston losing last year was interesting, but in the last 20 awards cycles, voters have shown that they're willing to come back to big-time performers after not awarding them for a year or two. It's happened for both Dennis Franz and James Gandolfini in the past. Spacey is perhaps less of a threat than I'm making him out to be, because we don't know how well House of Cards is going to do overall, but he submitted the very-good pilot. It's a toss-up, but I'm leaning toward Lewis because "Q&A" was a better showcase for him than "Say My Name" was for Cranston. But I also wouldn't be surprised in the least if Cranston won.
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
THE NOMINEES: Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland, House of Cards, Mad Men
YOUR WINNER: Homeland
WHY: So many of these races are dependent on what voters think of Homeland a year after falling in love with it, especially in light of the larger conversation ruling that Season 2 was kind of a mess. If you buy into that argument, then Homeland isn't going to win, which opens up the race to Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and Mad Men. But again, if I'm one of the Emmy voters who reviews "New Car Smell" and "Q&A" before I fill out my ballot? It's hard to vote against last year's champ. Elsewhere, a lot of people are predicting that this is the year Breaking Bad wins the big one, but I'm wary. Season 5A was good, but not great (though I guess if you're assuming voters are dumb and slow, this would be the year the show wins).
And although Netflix did enough work to get House of Cards nominated, there's no guarantee that it will translate; buzz seems low. Weirdly, I feel like Mad Men, a four-time winner here, is being discounted a little. It makes sense that Mad Men lost to Homeland last year, but if Homeland has lost its luster, couldn't Mad Men just slide back into first? Well, since the 1980s, no repeat victor in this category has returned to the winner's circle after a year or more away. In this category, when the voters are over you, they're over you. That's not good for Mad Men.
Ultimately, like in the in the supporting actor and lead actor races, it probably comes down to Homeland and Breaking Bad; I just don't think voters are done with Homeland quite yet.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MOVIE/MINISERIES
THE NOMINEES: Ellen Burstyn (Political Animals), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story: Asylum), Charlotte Rampling (Restless), Imelda Staunton (The Girl), Alfre Woodard (Steel Magnolias)
YOUR WINNER: Sarah Paulson
WHY: This is likely a two-woman race between Ellen Burstyn and Sarah Paulson, and Paulson's better. She was also nominated in this category last year for her work in Game Change, and she might have won had it not been for her American Horror Story co-star Jessica Lange.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MOVIE/MINISERIES
THE NOMINEES: Scott Baukla (Behind the Candelabra), James Cromwell (American Horror Story: Asylum), John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C: Hereafter), Peter Mullan (Top of the Lake), Zachary Quinto (American Horror Story: Asylum)
YOUR WINNER: James Cromwell
WHY: This category is theoretically more interesting than Supporting Actress in a Movie/Miniseries, but the result is probably the same. If the admiration for Behind the Candelabra really takes over, then Scott Baukla has a chance, and Peter Mullan's work in Top of the Lake is the best of the bunch. And yet, it's all Horror Story, all the time. You could talk me into Quinto, who did fine work and might benefit from being in a number of scenes with Paulson while voters review episodes. But James Cromwell playing an evil Nazi doctor? That's the kind of stuff Emmy voters love to celebrate (well, not the Nazi part), especially in a category like this.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A MOVIE/MINISERIES
NOMINEES: Jessica Lange (American Horror Story: Asylum), Laura Linney (The Big C: Hereafter), Helen Mirren (Phil Spector), Elisabeth Moss (Top of the Lake), Sigourney Weaver (Political Animals)
YOUR WINNER: Jessica Lange
WHY: What a jam-packed category of audience and Emmy favorites; each of them has a solid claim to this award. Helen Mirren is always, always an Emmy threat, Laura Linney's a former winner in this category for John Adams, Sigourney Weaver's a big name in a good role, and Elisabeth Moss is an American treasure. However, I'm projecting a big night for American Horror Story in the movie/miniseries categories, and even if that doesn't come to pass, Jessica Lange is still winning. She won the supporting actress race last year for her work in the first season of AHS, and turned in a better performance in a more central role in Season 2. Pretty easy, despite the competition.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A MOVIE/MINISERIES
THE NOMINEES: Benedict Cumberbatch (Parade's End), Matt Damon (Behind the Candelabra), Michael Douglas (Behind the Candelabra), Toby Jones (The Girl), Al Pacino (Phil Spector)
YOUR WINNER: Michael Douglas
WHY: Another category full of great performances by recognizable names, but another one where it's pretty easy to deduce the winner. Behind the Candelabra was basically Michael Douglas's comeback performance, and he didn't disappoint. Frankly, Douglas won this award the minute he joined the cast and HBO agreed to produce the film. Too bad for the Cumberbatch and Toby Jones, both of whom were very good in their respective performances as well. Al Pacino already won for playing another crazy white guy in an HBO film production with You Don't Know Jack, so he'll survive.
THE NOMINEES: American Horror Story: Asylum, Behind the Candelabra, Phil Spector, The Bible, Top of the Lake
YOUR WINNER: Behind the Candelabra
WHY: Last year, American Horror Story picked up a couple of wins, but was defeated by Game Change in a number of categories, including the big prize. This year, I'm betting that AHS will win a few more awards, but I'm not sure the wins for individual performers or in technical categories will allow it to topple its main competition, Behind the Candelabra. There are just too many big names associated with Behind the Candelabra, it's a HBO project, and it was well-received; the chances that anything else wins are slim.
In case your Emmy pool has tiebreakers, and also so they can be published for posterity's sake, here are my picks in a number of other categories:
COMEDY WRITING: Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon, Louie, "Daddy's Girlfriend Part 1"
COMEDY DIRECTING: Louis C.K., Louie "New Year's Eve"
DRAMA WRITING: Henry Brommell, Homeland "Q&A"
DRAMA DIRECTING: David Fincher, House of Cards "Pilot"
MINISERIES/MOVIE WRITING: Richard LaGravenese, Behind the Candelabra
MINISERIES/MOVIE DIRECTING: Steven Soderbergh, Behind the Candelabra
REALITY COMPETITION SERIES: The Amazing Race
VARIETY SERIES: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
It's time to make your picks. Who do you think is going to win the big categories?