No one ever really knows what will go down on Emmy Awards night. Just when you think the voters are stuck in a rubber-stamp rut, they pull a big surprise and bestow their love on a shiny TV newbie.

That's what makes predicting the winners such an iffy proposition. Still, someone has to do it, so we've cautiously tiptoed through the Emmy minefield to pinpoint exactly who we think should, and will, prevail.

If we blow it big time, please instantly forget that you ever read it here.

Outstanding drama series

"Breaking Bad" (AMC); "Downton Abbey" (PBS); "Game of Thrones" (HBO); "House of Cards" (Netflix); "Mad Men" (AMC); "True Detective" (HBO).

Should win: "Game of Thrones" delivered its biggest season yet, and no series is as ambitious, fresh, provocative and emotionally charged. Then again, Emmy voters rarely reward fantasy shows with the major prizes.

Will win: This is the most intriguing race, with at least three very worthy contenders. The guess here is that defending champ "Breaking Bad" will edge out "True Detective" for the title, thanks to its triumphant -- and much buzzed-about -- final set of episodes.

Outstanding comedy series

"The Big Bang Theory" (CBS); "Louie" (FX); "Modern Family" (ABC); "Orange Is the New Black" (Netflix); "Silicon Valley" (HBO); "Veep" (HBO).


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Should win: "Orange Is the New Black" rides into its first Emmy party atop a gigantic wave of positive buzz. Even if you don't believe the women's prison saga belongs in this category, there's no denying its greatness. The "Modern Family" winning streak could be in serious jeopardy.

Will win: Look for "Orange" to give Netflix something to really celebrate.

Lead actor, drama

Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad"); Jeff Daniels ("The Newsroom," HBO); Jon Hamm ("Mad Men"); Woody Harrelson ("True Detective"); Matthew McConaughey ("True Detective"); Kevin Spacey ("House of Cards").

Should win: Wow. So many great leading men. Should we just have McConaughey and Harrelson reprise their "True Detective" brawl onstage with the winner taking all? Seriously, both guys delivered intense, impeccable performances, but give the edge to McConaughey, who had those unforgettable soliloquies.

Will win: McConaughey, because Emmy loves movie stars and because Cranston already has won three times.

Lead actress, drama

Lizzy Caplan ("Masters of Sex," Showtime); Claire Danes ("Homeland," Showtime); Michelle Dockery ("Downton Abbey"); Julianna Margulies ("The Good Wife," CBS); Kerry Washington ("Scandal," ABC); Robin Wright ("House of Cards").

Should win: We're still grousing over the shameful snub of Tatiana Maslany of "Orphan Black." But that doesn't diminish our admiration for Caplan, who has us swooning over her exquisite portrayal of pioneering sex researcher Virginia Johnson.

Will win: Wright. She nabbed the Golden Globe earlier this year, and her performance as a scheming, Lady Macbeth-like political power broker is just too delicious to resist. Meanwhile, two-time winner Danes was marvelous again, but her show has lost much of its cachet.

Lead actor, comedy

Louis C.K. ("Louie"); Don Cheadle ("House of Lies," Showtime); Ricky Gervais ("Derek," Netflix); Matt LeBlanc ("Episodes," Showtime); William H. Macy ("Shameless," Showtime); Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory").

Should win: It would be gratifying to see the do-it-all C.K. win for playing a fictional version of himself, but his series became darker and more polarizing this year.

Will win: Macy just might sneak in here, but our guess is that Parsons will hold him off. He continues to be the standout geek on prime time's most popular sitcom.

Lead actress, comedy

Lena Dunham ("Girls," HBO); Edie Falco ("Nurse Jackie," Showtime); Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Veep"); Melissa McCarthy ("Mike & Molly," CBS); Amy Poehler ("Parks & Recreation," NBC); Taylor Schilling ("Orange Is the New Black").

Should win: We're rooting for Poehler, who has never won, despite her still-hilarious turn as Pawnee's irrepressible Leslie Knope.

Will win: Schilling was the true breakout as a yuppie prison inmate, but Louis-Dreyfus will become a three-time winner for "Veep." Not only is she deserving, but the voters simply adore her.

And the Emmy should also go to ...

Outstanding miniseries: "Fargo" (FX)

Outstanding TV movie: "The Normal Heart" (HBO)

Lead actor, movie or miniseries: Billy Bob Thornton ("Fargo")

Lead actress, movie or miniseries: Cicely Tyson ("The Trip to Bountiful," Lifetime)

Supporting actor, drama: Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones")

Supporting actress, drama: Anna Gunn ("Breaking Bad")

Supporting actor, comedy: Andre Braugher ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine")

Supporting actress, comedy: Kate Mulgrew ("Orange Is the New Black")

Variety series: "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" (NBC)

Reality competition: "The Voice" (NBC)

Reality host: Jane Lynch ("Hollywood Game Night," NBC)

Contact Chuck Barney at cbarney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney and Facebook.com/bayareanewsgroup.chuckbarney.

The 66th primetime emmy awards

When: 5 p.m., Monday, Aug. 25
Where: NBC
Host: Seth Meyers


And the Emmy should also go to ...

Outstanding miniseries: "Fargo" (FX)

Outstanding TV movie: "The Normal Heart" (HBO)

Lead actor, movie or miniseries: Billy Bob Thornton ("Fargo")

Lead actress, movie or miniseries: Cicely Tyson ("The Trip to Bountiful," Lifetime)
Supporting actor, drama: Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones")
Supporting

actress, drama: Anna Gunn ("Breaking Bad")
S

upporting actor, comedy: Andre Braugher ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine")

Supporting actress, comedy: Kate Mulgrew ("Orange Is the New Black")

Variety series: "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" (NBC)

Reality competition: "The Voice" (NBC)

Reality host: Jane Lynch ("Hollywood Game Night," NBC)