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Emmy Awards 2017 predictions: With ‘Game of Thrones’ out, best drama category becomes the toughest call

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in "Better Call Saul." Photo Credit: AMC / Sony Pictures Television / Michele K. Short

The 69th Emmys’ race for outstanding drama is the toughest call of them all. Without the ineligible “Game of Thrones” (it didn’t air during the Emmy year, June 1, 2016 through May 31, 2017), some parity has crept into the odds. Whom do those favor? Who knows?

 To the guesses!

BETTER CALL SAUL (AMC) For its submission, AMC and show producers offered “Chicanery,” the episode in which Chuck (Michael McKean) was seeking to have his brother Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) disbarred. That was a spectacular episode for a spectacular season. If the voters actually watch, they’ll know which show to vote for.

HOUSE OF CARDS (Netflix) Strong season or not, “Cards” can (and always has) reliably come up with five great episodes for Emmy consideration. But a win would be a shock here, and would also indicate that Emmy voters are out to lunch. “Cards” deserved a win for its first and second seasons, not this one.     

STRANGER THINGS (Netflix) The Emmys have almost never honored a high-concept series (“Lost” was the only exception) and never a high-concept-horror-government-conspiracy series. But the Emmys . . . well, they are a-changin’. They had never rewarded a fantasy fiction series either — and then along came “Game of Thrones.” So, yeah, “Things” has a good chance at victory.    

THE CROWN (Netflix) The Emmys have repeated a Golden Globe winner 15 times since 1962, when the TV Globes were first handed out. The most recent Emmy/Globe same-year winner was “Breaking Bad” in 2013. Does this bode well (or ill) for 2017 Globe winner “The Crown?” The Emmys and Globes tend to double up only when the show in question is a slam-dunk — “Mad Men” and “Hill Street Blues” as the most obvious examples. “The Crown” was beloved by viewers this season, but the Emmys may wait for next season, when Princess Diana comes into the story.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (Hulu) “Tale” has that very special something — a powerful social and political message that appeals to voters, abetted by some superb performances. A can’t miss? Usually, except that the Emmy crowd tends to be conservative (artistically, not politically) in the drama category. A win may come in time, but a freshman victory seems like a long shot.

THIS IS US (NBC) For Emmy consideration, NBC and producers submitted the episodes “The Big Day” and “Memphis.” Smart move. Those were among the best individual episodes of any prime time show last year, and almost perfectly representative of the power (and glory) of this fine newcomer.

WESTWORLD (HBO) It must gall HBO and its inborn sense of Emmy entitlement to be competing against the upstart crowd of Netflix wannabes in this category. But HBO knew at least two would be in the mix and therefore pushed hard to get attention for its costly prestige freshman series. The payoff: 22 nominations, three more than “Stranger Things.” Does tonnage lead to the ultimate payoff? Not always.

SHOULD WIN: “Better Call Saul.” “Saul” is “Breaking Bad’s” equal, and as the third season occasionally suggested, quite possibly its superior. This is the best show on television. Period.

WILL WIN: “This Is Us.” The long drought finally ends. A commercial broadcast series hasn’t won this award since 2005 (“Lost”). There hasn’t even been a commercial broadcast nominee since 2011 (“The Good Wife”). But this isn’t about ending droughts. It’s about quality. “This Is Us” should prove that Sunday.

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