Watching the Emmy ceremony last year produced a nasty case of whiplash as the evening veered wildly between rewarding the expected winners ("Modern Family," Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jim Parsons) and delivering absolutely shocking surprises. Bobby Cannavale? Really? Jeff Daniels, not Kevin Spacey or Bryan Cranston? Huh. Merritt who? Wever? OK, then. Gotta go. Bye.
Wever didn't know how to react to her win, but she should have at least allowed for the possibility, as the Emmy acting categories are judged not for the whole season but for a single submitted episode. (At least that's how voters are directed to proceed.) Sometimes this methodology can produce some bizarre outcomes, though usually not as many as last year. Who might pull off an upset in 2014? Read on for our early predictions.
Should win: "Breaking Bad"
Will win: "Breaking Bad"
Analysis: "Breaking Bad" was in the middle of its final few episodes last year when, on its fourth try, it finally won the series Emmy. Based on the high quality and emotional payoff contained in that last hurrah, it was widely assumed then that this crew would repeat this time out. And it probably will, edging out the cosmically complex "True Detective."
Should win: Matthew McConaughey, "True Detective"
Will win: McConaughey
Analysis: As with series, this comes down to "True Detective" versus "Breaking Bad," pitting Bryan Cranston's indelible, iconic antihero against McConaughey's haunted truth-teller. This is the last chance to honor Cranston but the only opportunity to reward newly minted Oscar winner McConaughey. Given Cranston's four previous wins, give the slight edge to the Emmy newcomer.
Should win: Julianna Margulies, "The Good Wife"
Analysis: Claire Danes has won two years running for "Homeland" but has little chance to threepeat, as voters gave the show only two nominations. Kerry Washington was a popular pick last year, but her moment may have come and gone. Give the advantage to Wright for her modern Lady Macbeth, though Emmy favorite Margulies has a powerful, emotional episode with "Last Call." Close race.
DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTOR
Should win: Aaron Paul, "Breaking Bad"
Will win: Paul
Analysis: It's last call for both Paul and Josh Charles, who left "The Good Wife" on spectacular terms. And past winner Peter Dinklage has a fantastic Emmy episode, Tyrion's trial, in which he delivers the kind of stentorian, damn-you-all-to-hell speech that award voters love. Still, yo, Paul going ballistic after putting together the truth about the poisoning of the child Brock in the "Confessions" episode? Tough to top.
DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Should win: Anna Gunn, "Breaking Bad"
Will win: Gunn
Analysis: It's tempting to predict an upset here, as voters could go with the sensationalistic "Downton Abbey" episode in which Joanne Froggatt's Anna Bates is raped. But Gunn's Emmy submission, "Ozymandias," is peerless. You don't bet against a mother protecting her child, particularly if she's brandishing a kitchen knife. Make it back-to-back wins for Gunn.
Should win: "Orange Is the New Black"
Will win: "Orange Is the New Black"
Analysis: As much as Emmy voters love reruns, there's the feeling that "Modern Family" won't win here five years running. "Orange Is the New Black," revolutionary in so many ways, would be the logical successor, though some voters might snub it because it isn't an outright comedy. If that's the case, maybe the great "Veep" takes the crown.
Should win: Ricky Gervais, "Derek"
Will win: Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory"
Analysis: For the moment, at least, we're going to play the percentages and go with the safe pick, Parsons. But Gervais, on a divisive show that doesn't get the publicity of its Netflix siblings, easily has the best Emmy submission episode, a superb showcase for his slapstick and verbal comedy. Watch it now so you'll be smarter than everyone else in the room on Emmy night.
Should win: Taylor Schilling, "Orange Is the New Black"
Will win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep"
Analysis: Although we may be at the tipping point for a new winner in comedy series, Louis-Dreyfus seems safe for another year here, particularly with the strength of both the "Veep" season and her submission episode, the dramatic — and very funny — first half of the season finale. Schilling poses the only threat and shouldn't be discounted for the deft way she negotiated comedy and pathos.
COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTOR
Should win: Andre Braugher, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
Will win: Braugher
Analysis: Tony Hale won last year and could well repeat for the same episode that costar Louis-Dreyfus submitted. Their scene together in the bathroom might be the funniest in the show's history. And as there are only two "Modern Family" nominees this year — Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ty Burrell — the vote-splitting math improves. But we're going with Braugher, whose submission episode, the wonderful "Christmas," winningly combines humor and heart.
COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Should win: Kate Mulgrew, "Orange Is the New Black"
Will win: Mulgrew
Analysis: Emmy voters love Allison Janney, having already given her four Emmys for "The West Wing." Now she's nominated for a very different show, "Mom," with an episode that has her character thinking she's pregnant before realizing that, no, it's just menopause. We're partial to Mulgrew, though, both for the work and the career transformation. She wins on her first try.
Should win: "Sherlock: His Last Vow"
Will win: "The Normal Heart"
Analysis: The television academy combined this category with miniseries for the last three years before separating them again. Prior to that, HBO had won seven straight, and it will begin a new streak for "The Normal Heart," a pointed, passionate adaptation of Larry Kramer's Tony-winning play. Overlooked: The brilliant last episode of "Sherlock," a surprising, suspenseful tale of blackmail that was among the series' finest.
Should win: "Fargo"
Will win: "Fargo"
Analysis: If the makers of "American Horror Story" rued competing against HBO movies, they can't be much happier this year as fellow FX entry "Fargo" figures to steamroll this category and a handful of others. Taking the highly specific sensibility of the Coen brothers' movie and expanding it into something original and entertaining is well worthy of celebration.
Should win: Martin Freeman, "Fargo"
Will win: Billy Bob Thornton, "Fargo"
Analysis: You know a category is crazy-competitive if the presence of "Sherlock's" Benedict Cumberbatch is a mere afterthought. Freeman delivered an incredible character arc over the course of "Fargo," which voters can fully appreciate, as miniseries actors submit the entire series. Costar Billy Bob Thornton, meanwhile, created a legend in the mysterious hit man Malvo, and that could just give him a slight edge over Freeman and Mark Ruffalo, who might have been just a little too persuasive as the off-putting protagonist in "The Normal Heart."
Should win: Cicely Tyson, "The Trip to Bountiful"
Will win: Tyson
Analysis: Tyson already won the Tony for "Bountiful" on Broadway. No way Emmy voters don't follow suit.