Fassbender has the toughest road, says O'Neil. The academy has softened up about giving Oscars for villainous roles, but there's usually a wink involved -- think Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds" or even Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs." Not so for Fassbender's character, a vicious slave owner.
"He's pure Satan," says O'Neil.
Do the "Hustle"
"American Hustle" did even better among the major categories -- it's the only film nominated in the Big Six of picture, director, actor, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress. But of all the film's nominees, only Jennifer Lawrence -- who's won a Globe and a SAG Award, and who's the most popular actress in the world right now -- is considered a threat in her category, best supporting actress.
The key is probably Amy Adams, up for best actress. That category is considered a runaway for Cate Blanchett of "Blue Jasmine," but if the Woody Allen controversy has rubbed off on her, five-time nominee Adams could take the Oscar and indicate bigger things for the film about the '70s Abscam scandal.
Davis is doubtful, though. Even the Seahawks gave up a touchdown during the Super Bowl, he says.
"I'm sure she'll lose a couple votes, but not enough to matter," he says.
Producer Harvey Weinstein is the master of awards gamesmanship. He makes high-quality, often audience-friendly films with good casts -- "Shakespeare in Love," "The Artist," Quentin Tarantino's films -- and he knows how to promote them.
This year he's putting his chips on his best picture nominee, "Philomena." The film has earned good reviews, done respectable box office and features the ageless Judi Dench. It has a good shot at adapted screenplay, which was co-written by star Steve Coogan, and Dench is a seven-time nominee who's won once before.
Along with Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," it's probably the leading dark horse -- but whereas "Wolf" is divisive, "Philomena" is liked.
O'Neil thinks screenplay is possible -- "sometimes the most emotional movie wins" -- but thinks that might be it.
Still, at least "Philomena" picked up a best picture nomination. Weinstein's other major film, "August: Osage County," didn't even get that.
Finally, this is an odd handicapping year. Usually the best director has directed the best picture, but this year the handicappers are picking "Gravity's" Cuaron for best director and "12 Years a Slave" for best picture. When the two categories differ, it's a surprise, not an expectation.
Davis can't shake the feeling that voters won't split their votes -- and that will make "Gravity" the big winner. (Sorry, "12 Years" director Steve McQueen.) Cuaron not only won the top award from the Directors Guild, but "Gravity" also tied "12 Years" as the best film picked by the Producers Guild -- which, given the PGA's use of the preferential ballot, was an incredible shocker.
And O'Neil suggests another indicator: "Gravity" star Sandra Bullock, who's up for best actress.
"If 'Gravity' wins best picture, Sandra might go along for the rocket ride," he says. "She is 'Gravity' -- she's the whole movie."
One sure thing?
This won't predict the best picture winner, but if you're looking to check off a category on your Oscar ballot, look no further than "The Lady in Number 6: 'Music Saved My Life'," a documentary short subject about a Holocaust survivor who lived to be 110. As Mark Harris noted in Grantland, she died Sunday -- two days before Oscar voting ended. Harris sums it up: "We're done here."
Dominoes and randomness
A lot of the foregoing, of course, assumes the Oscars are logical. Let us emphasize: The Oscars are not logical. They are a popularity contest, a business proposition, a plea for attention, a throw of a dart.
Sometimes films gather momentum like so many falling dominoes, as "Argo" did last year. Other times big favorites fall short at the end: 1976's "Network" won three of four acting categories but lost best picture to "Rocky"; 1972's "Cabaret" took home eight Oscars -- including best director -- but lost best picture to "The Godfather."
And if you need any more proof that the Oscar universe can be as random as a roll of the dice, consider two words: Roberto Benigni.
Good luck in your pool.