The best drama on television right now is playing out in the incredibly overcrowded drama race. Consider this: Last year’s slate of nominees was “Breaking Bad,” “Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones,” “Homeland,” “House of Cards,” and “Mad Men” – and did not include “The Good Wife.” Remember the shock waves that caused? Throw into the mix “True Detective’s” entrance into the race, which is guaranteed to knock out at least one more.

Come Thursday, at least two heavyweights are going to be disappointed. And that’s before you consider the wild cards waiting in the wings: critical favorites like Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” which burst out of the gate its first season with compelling performances and razor-sharp writing, or FX’s spy thriller “The Americans,” which found its voice in season two with a marital drama played out against cunning plot twists.

Let’s start with the locks: AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and HBO’s “True Detective” are sure things. “Breaking Bad,” last year’s winner, is guaranteed a nomination for its near-flawless series finale, adored by critics and fans alike – a rare accomplishment. And while some may still carp about whether “True Detective” is in the right category, its star power and inventive narrative — not to mention the stunning filmmaking style – are Emmy bait indeed. The trophy may ultimately prove to be a dead heat between those two shows.

For all the talk that Emmy voters don’t like genre  vehicles (sorry, “The Walking Dead”), HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is simply a majestic achievement unlike anything else on television. “House of Cards” may well stand a better chance in the acting categories, but the power of Netflix will surely land it a slot here. Despite last year’s egregious omission, CBS’ “The Good Wife” (pictured) rebounded with not only a brilliant season creatively, but also a clever Emmy campaign that called attention to its stamina as a 22-episode contender going up against shows with as few as seven and eight episodes.

Which leaves one last slot, which is a toss-up. Emmy voters do love their Brits, which means “Downton Abbey” could still sneak in. “Homeland” took a lot of lumps in its third season, making it vulnerable against strong competition. Ultimately, old habits will die hard, and voters will give the final to “Mad Men.”

As the clock ticks down to Thursday’s pre-dawn nominations announcement, here are our picks for the most likely drama series contenders:

  • “Breaking Bad” (AMC)
  • “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
  • “The Good Wife” (CBS)
  • “House of Cards” (Netflix)
  • “Mad Men” (AMC)
  • “True Detective” (HBO)
  • Wild card: “Masters of Sex” (Showtime)

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