CINCINNATI, DEC. 30 -- The Cincinnati Bengals won the AFC Central Division title today when they defeated the Cleveland Browns, 21-14, and later the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Houston Oilers.

Boomer Esiason lobbed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Eric Ball midway through the fourth quarter, keeping the Bengals (9-7) in playoff contention. They won the division tonight when the Oilers routed the Steelers, 34-14.

Seattle's victory over Detroit eliminated the Bengals from a wild-card spot, meaning an Oilers' victory was their only hope for postseason play.

The Browns (3-13) ended their worst season in franchise history by rallying from a 14-0 halftime deficit set up by their own mistakes. They had two fumble recoveries negated by penalties, failed to score on first and goal from the 1, and had interceptions lead to two touchdowns.

James Francis of the Bengals returned a pass by Mike Pagel 17 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, and Barney Bussey's interception set up Esiason's 22-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Holman 1:14 before halftime.

The Browns then stunned the Bengals with two touchdowns in the first five minutes of the second half. Kevin Mack ran two yards for a score set up by Felix Wright's interception, and Pagel hit Brian Brennan with a 16-yard touchdown pass following a short punt.

Both teams failed to convert scoring chances with the game tied. Cleveland's Jerry Kauric was wide left on a 48-yard field goal attempt, and James Brooks fumbled at the Cleveland 6 early in the fourth quarter.

A play fake from Esiason set up the winning touchdown. With a third and two from the Browns 48, Esiason faked a handoff and lobbed the ball down the left sideline to Ball, who took the ball in stride and ran into the end zone.