Quarterback Boomer Esiason of the Cincinnati Bengals, the key figure in Cincinnati's 180-degree turn from 4-11 in 1987 to an AFC-best 12-4 this season, has been named the NFL's Most Valuable Player by the Associated Press.

Esiason, who had the best rating of any NFL passer, completed 57 percent of his passes and threw for 3,572 yards and 28 touchdowns with only 14 interceptions as the Bengals took control of the AFC Central early and captured the division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.The Bengals' first playoff game is Saturday against Seattle.

Esiason won the award in a close three-way vote among sportswriters and broadcasters covering each of the NFL's 28 teams.

He had 31 votes to 21 for quarterback Randall Cunningham of Philadlephia and 17 for running back Roger Craig of San Francisco, who was named the league's top offensive player.

Mike Singletary of Chicago, the defensive player of the year had six and quarterback Warren Moon of Houston, defensive tackle Keith Millard of Minnesota and running back Herschel Walker of Dallas got one vote each.

While Esiason said he thinks the award should go to his entire team, Coach Sam Wyche disagreed.

It was also a personal comeback of sorts for Esiason, who was the focal point for a lot of fan criticism in last year's 4-11 year. He was the team's outspoken union representative during the players' strike, and took a lot of abuse from fans at Riverfront Stadium for the on-field failings when the strike ended.