Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.

In the “what a difference a year makes” category, consider the case of AMC’s Mad Men. In August 2012, the drama series category chatter was all about whether Mad Men could make Emmy history by winning its fifth top drama trophy in succession. Then the Showtime thriller Homeland stepped up to steal the thunder (and the statuette) in its first season. This time around, the favorites are instead Mad Men’s fellow AMC hour Breaking Bad and Homeland, which looks to repeat. Standing in their way are repeat nominees Game Of Thrones and Downton Abbey as well as newbie House Of Cards, the freshman drama that represents a true wild card for Netflix on its maiden Emmy voyage.

It took The Sopranos until its fifth season to win best drama, too. And this looks to be Breaking Bad’s time. Plus, the show is premiering its final eight episodes just as ballots are starting to hit mailboxes. It’s got the buzz factor going in spades.

Shows simply aren’t supposed to win their first series Emmy on their fourth try, and rarely do. Moreover, too many members of the TV Academy could be turned off by the show’s perpetually dark, gritty, violent tone.

It already won a project Emmy once, though that was in the movie/miniseries category during its first season. Downton remained one of TV’s most beloved watercoolor shows in its third season. The British pedigree helps a lot, too.

There’s been a backlash after the shocking death at the end of the season of character Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), which some perceived as a jump-the-shark moment.

With each passing season, Thrones has gained increasing cred as a quality piece, reaching beyond the restrictive bounds of the fantasy genre. And it’s gained Emmy traction in a way that its HBO stablemate True Blood never has.

Fantasy-themed dramas never end up taking home the trophy because their charms tend to elude too many TV Academy voters. Earning a nomination is one thing for Game Of Thrones; winning is quite another.

Homeland won a year ago against longer odds than it faces here: The bid for a fifth consecutive category Emmy by Mad Men. This time, it only has to knock off another show it’s already beaten in Breaking Bad. It still has hip and cool on its side, if not quite the same freshness and buzz.

A similar thriller with a like pedigree, Fox’s 24, couldn’t win two in a row, and the prevailing wisdom is that a wheel or two came off the Homeland bus during its sophomore campaign. The buzz seems to be that it’s time to honor Breaking Bad, and the buzz often knows best.

House Of Cards has a freshness and vitality that the TV Academy likes to reward, not to mention a smart political theme. It also doesn’t hurt that it stars two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey and has a feature look and feel.

It’s doubtful that the TV Academy is ready to anoint a Netflix series. The streaming service needs to first pay its dues like everyone else. Respect will come, just as it ultimately did for cable projects and performers.

Winning four times in a category means it could win again, even after a sixth season perceived by critics as uneven. The fact the season recently concluded means the series is still fresh in voters’ minds.

The general perception is that this Emmy ship already has sailed off into the sunset. And one gets the feeling that Mad Men guru Matthew Weiner knows it all too well.