With the absence of a few reigning winners ("Game of Thrones," Rami Malek, Tatiana Maslany), this year's Emmys sport a bit more uncertainty than usual. Meaning: Don't hold me to these early predictions. I might be changing my mind, and then reversing course again, before the awards are bestowed Sept. 17. (Check back the week of the ceremony.)
"Better Call Saul"
"The Handmaid's Tale"
"House of Cards"
"This Is Us"
Winner: "Stranger Things"
Analysis: "Stranger Things" doesn't feel like the kind of show that would win the honor of best television drama. It's a horror-mystery. It stars a bunch of kids. It references "The Goonies." But you can't overlook its popularity — 18 Emmy nominations, a Producers Guild Award for best drama series and the SAG Awards honor for drama series ensemble. Voters love this show. Netflix had to turn away people from a June event at the film academy's 1,000-seat Goldwyn Theater in June. Shannon Purser (Barb!) got a nomination.
All that aside, I could still see "Handmaid's Tale" winning because of its unflinching excellence, political relevance and Hulu's savvy marketing. (Keep those handmaids roaming the streets.) Key nominations in directing (two nods, Reed Morano and Kate Dennis) and writing (showrunner Bruce Miller earned a nom for the pilot) indicate the depth of support for the show.
LEAD ACTRESS DRAMA
Viola Davis, "How to Get Away With Murder"
Claire Foy, "The Crown"
Elisabeth Moss, "The Handmaid's Tale"
Keri Russell, "The Americans"
Evan Rachel Wood, "Westworld"
Robin Wright, "House of Cards"
Analysis: Moss now has eight nominations — six for her iconic turn as Peggy Olson on "Mad Men," one for her formidable work in Jane Campion's series "Top of the Lake" and now one for playing the defiant handmaid Offred/June. Yes, she just seems to be getting better. And, yes, she's overdue. This one's a no-brainer.
LEAD ACTOR DRAMA
Sterling K. Brown, "This Is Us"
Anthony Hopkins, "Westworld"
Bob Odenkirk, "Better Call Saul"
Matthew Rhys, "The Americans"
Liev Schreiber, "Ray Donovan"
Kevin Spacey, "House of Cards"
Milo Ventimiglia, "This Is Us"
Analysis: Rami Malek, the reigning winner, wasn't nominated for the second season of "Mr. Robot," leaving the category open. First thought: I like Brown's chances, but won't Ventimiglia siphon off some votes? Let's go with Odenkirk. Next thought: Odenkirk is deserving but if voters really connected with "Saul," wouldn't they have nominated Michael McKean's operatic supporting turn? Let's change back to Brown. Last thought: (Flipping coin) Yes. Sticking with Brown. He won an Emmy last year for playing prosecutor Christopher Darden in "The People v. O.J. Simpson," and he's just as good as the dorky, generous Randall in "This Is Us."
SUPPORTING ACTRESS DRAMA
Uzo Aduba, "Orange Is the New Black"
Millie Bobby Brown, "Stranger Things"
Anne Dowd, "The Handmaid's Tale"
Chrissy Metz, "This Is Us"
Thandie Newton, "Westworld"
Samira Wiley, "The Handmaid's Tale"
Analysis: This is a superb set of nominees, making for a wide-open race. "Stranger Things," as I've already mentioned, has a lot of fans, and Brown brilliantly captured her character's conflicted emotions mostly without words. Newton was the fan favorite of a show that earned 22 Emmy nominations. But I'm leaning toward Metz at the moment, as her "This Is Us" story line packed such an emotional wallop and her own late-blooming story resonates.
SUPPORTING ACTOR DRAMA
Jonathan Banks, "Better Call Saul"
David Harbour, "Stranger Things"
Ron Cephas Jones, "This Is Us"
Michael Kelly, "House of Cards"
John Lithgow, "The Crown"
Mandy Patinkin, "Homeland"
Jeffrey Wright. "Westworld"
Analysis: You don't bet against a five-time Emmy winner playing Winston Churchill.
"Master of None"
"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Analysis: I'd vote for the groundbreaking "Atlanta," which could still very well dethrone "Veep," which has won this Emmy two years running. Donald Glover's series shifted between seriousness and slapstick, brilliantly examining issues such as identity and appropriation. But "Atlanta" earned six nominations; "Veep" pulled in 17, earning every one of them with its sharp political satire. Based on its continued excellence and the numbers, it's hard to pick against it.
LEAD ACTRESS COMEDY
Pamela Adlon, "Better Things"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep"
Jane Fonda, "Grace and Frankie"
Allison Janney, "Mom"
Ellie Kemper, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Tracee Ellis Ross, "black-ish"
Lily Tomlin, "Grace and Frankie"
Analysis: Yes, Louis-Dreyfus has won five straight years for each and every season of "Veep." Yes, she has more Emmy wins in this category than any other woman. Yes, one more Emmy will tie her with Cloris Leachman for most Emmy acting wins. Yes, she currently has seven, as does fellow nominee Janney. No, Janney's presence in this category will not keep Louis-Dreyfus from winning another Emmy. (It's "Mom's" only nod.) In conclusion: Until Louis-Dreyfus loses, you'd be crazy to pick against her.
LEAD ACTOR COMEDY
Anthony Anderson, "black-ish"
Aziz Ansari, "Master of None"
Zach Galifianakis, "Baskets"
Donald Glover, "Atlanta"
William H. Macy, "Shameless"
Jeffrey Tambor, "Transparent"
Analysis: Tambor won back-to-back Emmys, but "Transparent" failed to earn a series nod for its third season, indicating that voters are cooling a bit toward the show. More than that though, this would be a great spot to recognize Glover, the multi-hyphenate behind the essential "Atlanta."
SUPPORTING ACTRESS COMEDY
Vanessa Bayer, "Saturday Night Live"
Anna Chlumsky, "Veep"
Kathryn Hahn, "Transparent"
Leslie Jones, "Saturday Night Live"
Judith Light, "Transparent"
Kate McKinnon, "Saturday Night Live"
Analysis: McKinnon makes even the worst "SNL" sketches watchable. (And, all the Emmy love notwithstanding, there were a fair number of clunkers this time around.) This season, she moved on from Hillary Clinton to skewering Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and sending up an unhinged Kellyanne Conway without missing a beat, making her an overwhelming favorite to win a second consecutive Emmy in this category.
SUPPORTING ACTOR COMEDY
Louie Anderson, "Baskets"
Alec Baldwin, "Saturday Night Live"
Ty Burrell, "Modern Family"
Tituss Burgess, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Tony Hale, "Veep"
Matt Walsh, "Veep"
Analysis: Reigning champ Anderson was even better this season on "Baskets," deepening his portrayal of a lonely woman taking charge of her life while dealing with her ever-disappointing adult sons. He's more than entitled to another Emmy. But Baldwin mocking Donald Trump week in and week out on "Saturday Night Live" became appointment viewing, whether you watched it live or the next morning on a laptop or phone. It's unlikely voters won't reward his expert turn.